by BRYAN EVERSON
If pressure breeds excellence in the form of competition on the hardwood, Utica coach Tom McDonald should see a positive yield in some form sooner than later.
Not for the first time this season, the Chieftains took on an experienced team that pressed up the floor and forced the tempo Tuesday night in Utica Ford, who they fell to 57-40.
It’s not that McDonald’s team doesn’t prefer playing that style, but as in their only other loss of the season, against Stoney Creek, Utica (4-2) felt the heat as the game wore on.
“Stevenson pressed us pretty good, and we didn’t always handle it well, but well enough to win,” McDonald said. “But they didn’t have the [same] offensive firepower. Both Stoney and Ford, when they get a steal, they’re going to turn it into points. That’s what makes them good.”
“We try to do that too, and they handled ours a lot better than we did their [pressure]. Sometimes we forced things that weren’t there, and other times we didn’t take advantage of things that were.”
It was Utica initially that threw the first big punch, coming out of the gates with an 11-2 run as senior captains Brooke Chmiel and Lyndsey Lavelle combined for nine points, but the Falcons were able to compose themselves and strike back, closing the gap to three by the end of the first quarter.
By midway through the second, Ford (8-1) was able to start capturing hold of the momentum, and a 3-pointer from the wing by senior guard Julia Cianferra put the Falcons ahead as they closed the opening half on a 7-2 stretch to go into the second half with a five-point advantage.
That’s when the visitors really got to disrupting Utica, as Cianferra struck again coming out of the break, connecting on a 3-pointer and an inside bucket. Ford’s up-tempo play proceeded to catch the Chieftains out of position too frequently, and by the time junior guard Emily Suchoski was able to get a basket in the paint, the Falcons’ run left Utica behind by 11.
“We had a really solid start and we just got away from being fundamental,” McDonald said. “We talked before the game about how the team who got the most easy baskets in a big game usually wins, and it wasn’t close [tonight]. They did a great job. [Ford] Coach Joseph did a great job getting out and running on us, and our transition defense was very late and slow. That’s not a good combination against a team that plays four guards and handles the ball the way that they do.”
“There were just so many run-outs that were uncontested, 3-on-1’s and 2- on-1’s, and that just puts you in such a tough spot, so we need to do better on that.”
To Utica’s credit, the home side showed resilience even when they trailed by 19 at the end of three. Lavelle, who had a team-high 13 points, hit a long jumper just inside the line to start the fourth, and less than a minute later, connected from the same spot, but this time with both feet behind the arc to force Ford to work late in the contest.
“[Lyndsey] fought, and when we ran offense in the second half, we got her open,” McDonald said. “She hit some shots, and she’s going to do that. We just need other people to hit shots and run disciplined offense.”
McDonald pointed out a number of positives — noting the defensive pressure was good at times — and thought the offense operated at a suitable level at other times, too.
“I thought when we ran half-court offense, we moved the basketball well and it resulted in good shots,” he said. “I thought all night long when we handled the pressure and got into it, we did a great job, just not enough times [doing it].”
Both Suchoski and Chmiel chipped in eight points for Utica in the defeat. Ford got 18 out of Cianferra, half of them coming in their 21-point third quarter. Senior guard Carly Schwarz added 10 points for the Falcons.
The Chieftains will look to rebound when they host Sterling Heights next on Friday night.
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